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Mammals of south-east Asian islands and their Late Pleistocene environments

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Abstract Aim 

The environments that existed in south-east Asian islands during the last glacial are poorly known, limiting our understanding of mammalian biogeography in the region. The objective of this research is to investigate the ecological characteristics of mammal faunas on small islands, and to see whether the habitat requirements of the species in those faunas can be used to deduct the vegetation types that existed on islands before becoming isolated by rising sea levels. Location 

The maps presented here cover the small islands of tropical south-east Asia, including the Burmese, Thai and Cambodian islands in the north, the islands off the coast of west Sumatra in the west, the islands around Java in the south, and the islands off the east coast of Borneo in the east, including the Philippine islands of Palawan and those in the Sulu Archipelago. Methods 

The presence records of mammal species on 215 small islands in the region were compiled, and the habitat requirements for each of these species was assessed (species that had probably been introduced by humans were excluded from the analysis). For each island location (longitude and latitude), maximum altitude of the island, total area, depth to nearest land, distance to nearest island, and distance to nearest mainland were assessed. Geographical and statistical analyses were used to investigate patterns of mammalian habitat requirements. Results 

The geographical analysis showed that forest-dependent species, i.e. species that are only found in primary forest (lowland and mountainous), appear to be concentrated on islands off west Sumatra, in the Lingga and Riau Archipelagos, around Palawan, and around Bunguran Island; they are absent mostly from the islands of the Java Sea, those off the east coast of eastern Borneo, from most islands in the Sunda Strait, several islands in the northern South China Sea, and from all islands off the west coast of the Malay/Thai Peninsula and in the Gulf of Thailand. Species that generally occur outside primary forest, that is those in secondary forest, gardens, plantations and open areas mostly occurred on islands where the forest-dependent species were absent. The statistical analysis showed that latitude and size of islands were important factors that determined the absence and presence of forest-dependent species on small islands. Main conclusions 

The data suggest that during the last glacial there were several areas in the Sundaic region that remained forest covered: west of Sumatra, north-west of Borneo, the Malacca Straits and around Palawan. Other areas may have been covered by more open vegetation types like tree savanna, or open deciduous forest: on and to the east of the Malay/Thai Peninsula, the Java Sea area, including the Sunda Strait, and eastern Borneo.
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Keywords: Biogeography; Pleistocene; mammal; palaeoenvironment; sea levels; south-east Asia

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2003

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